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Creating a Classroom Culture

A group of students sit in a circle working together and conversing

The school year is fast approaching, and at this point in the summer, I found I needed to have a very strong conversation with myself about this question, “Whose yearbook was this yearbook going to be?” This question reminded me of my goals for the class because I become very invested in a project's outcome, such as the school yearbook. My inner conflict pushed me to tame the desire to control, refrain from intervening, and take the lead when (not if) difficulties emerged. The urge to "fix it" or tell students "how" to correct the situation often overwhelmed me. I had to allow my better instincts to guide me to encourage my student's commitment to their personal vision for "their book." My responsibility was to facilitate a process, not take over. Inserting my personal boundaries helped me create the space and freedom for students to have ownership.

Strategically implementing many valuable tricks and tips I had gathered over the years of teaching and research for keeping students engaged kept me on target. The United Yearbook blog, Student Motivation, includes the Expectancy-Value-Cost model, which when applied helps students become invested in a project. From the student’s point of view, there are 3 questions which might drive their willingness to “own” a project learning experience like developing a yearbook:

  • Can I succeed at this?

  • Do I want to do this? If so, why do I want to do this?

  • Do I want to or do I have the time, energy or other resources needed to do this?

When teachers enlist students in some authentic ways to address parts or all of these in a project’s design, students buy in and success usually increases. If these 3 questions from the student’s point of view are not considered in the instructional design, I can guarantee student detachment. I’ve experienced it, and it can be challenging for both the teacher and the student. This blog details some strategies that offer success when employed with disengaged students. I encourage you to make use of its tips.

I really wanted my yearbook staffers to own the entire yearbook-making process. My desire was to be what my actual job title suggested: the Adviser! Since creating a yearbook placed my staffers smack-dab in the middle of a “real world” experience, I borrowed heavily from two business resources: Fish! Philosophy and IDEO.

FISH! Philosophy, is a workplace culture innovator. 25 years ago, a filmmaker, John Christensen, saw a fishmonger business, The World Famous Pike’s Place Fish Market, in the Seattle Market, having loads of fun with each other and with potential customers. The film that he made, FISH!, shared the 4 cornerstones of their personal beliefs and business practices that became known as the FISH! Philosophy.

I remember the first time I shared FISH! with my students. These 4 simple practices could really change us as individuals and change our classroom culture.

A graph that shows the four elements of fish: Be there, Play, Make their Day, Choose Your Attitude.

Today’s workers value an emotionally supportive environment. They want to know their work has a purpose. They value close relationships with colleagues. They want to be recognized regularly and be heard. When people don’t feel valued, they stop believing they make a positive difference.

From the FISH! Philosophy Website

I believed that my students also desired these ideas. My students wanted a higher purpose for their work. They wanted to feel valued and to believe they made a difference. My staffers wanted to have fun working with their friends. They enjoyed being recognized and recognizing others. My students wanted to be heard and to feel safe in an emotionally supportive environment. So if we could collectively and by invitation practice being there for each other; if we could create a sense of playfulness that supported a positive learning environment; if we could make each other’s day through tangible actions and encouragement, and if we could monitor our own attitudes along with implementing gratitude and looking for the best, we had a chance at making those desires a reality.

IDEO, a design thinking originator, is dedicated to transforming the workplace and empowering employees to clearly lead the way to innovate for the future. IDEO blends the expertise of their employees. Their employees are literally from every discipline imaginable. IDEO encourages collaboration from these differing perspectives so that transformation or change can happen. IDEO partners with business to create human centered design thinking which makes a difference to the problems the business needs to solve. This is why Ford now has the F-150 Lightning, the first all-electric Ford truck; why H&M has reduced its environmental impact through an inventory algorithm that eliminates potential waste before it was even made; and why a Food Bank in Illinois was able to design and push out an online grocery ordering app for its clientele, which preserves their personal dignity as shoppers and also eliminates extra waste.

IDEO’s process brings a collection of people with lived experience who can work together to solve a challenge through many iterations, all while keeping empathy and humanness at the core of the solution. I felt my staffers could benefit from just such a process. During the course of any given year, my diverse set of students with their own lived experiences had several challenges to which they needed to find meaningful solutions. IDEO Designkit shares excellent information about Mindsets, Methods, and Case Studies. Whether you implement all of these concepts or aspects of them, these will build confidence in your staffers abilities to design their way into radical solutions–changing their perspectives from obstacles to opportunities.

A screenshot of the designkit page

Bottom line? You and your students will create a culture in your classroom. That culture will directly impact the work and product of the classroom–the yearbook. United Yearbook stands ready to accompany you and your students on this journey. We will offer the support you need, respecting the class culture you and your students have fashioned. This is YOUR yearbook. We will help bring it to life!

Former yearbook advisor, Lucy McHugh

Contributor: Lucy McHugh comes to United Yearbook Printing from a 39-year career in public and private school education. She was a former visual art teacher and yearbook adviser. She received a Bachelors of Science in Art from Columbia College in Columbia, SC, a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Nebraska in 2000, and in 2014 earned a Certificate in Catholic School Leadership from Loyola Marymount University. Lucy enjoys her family, making art and gardening.

Editor, Donna Ladner

Editor: Donna Ladner obtained a B.A. in Education and a minor in English from California Baptist University, and a M.S. in ESL from USC, Los Angeles. After she married Daniel, their family moved to Indonesia with a non-profit organization and lived cross-culturally for 15 years before returning to the U.S in 2012. Donna has been working as an editor and proofreader for TSE Worldwide Press and its subsidiary, United Yearbook since 2015.

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